PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Motorists on an interstate that cuts through the heart of Maine won’t see signs this summer directing them to a national monument created by President Barack Obama because the governor won’t let state workers install them.
The Maine Department of Transportation is delaying installation of signs alongside Interstate 95 for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument pending the outcome of a review ordered by President Donald Trump last month of the 27 monuments created by his predecessors.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage said it would be premature to install signs before completion of the 120-day review. But a leading proponent of the monument accused the governor of just being “spiteful.”
Katahdin region businesses and residents hoping for an economic boost from visitors to the 87,500-acre (137-square-mile) property managed by the National Park Service are caught in the middle, said Millinocket Town Council Chairman Michael Madore.
“This is all between the governor and the Department of the Interior. This is a battle of two powers, and we’re the collateral damage,” he said.
Trump ordered the review after accusing previous administrations of turning a 1906 law that lets the president protect federal land into a “massive federal land grab.”
LePage, who supports Trump, has long opposed the creation of the monument in northern Maine, contending federal ownership would stymie economic development. He’s even criticized the beauty of the land, saying coastal tourists aren’t interested in visiting a “mosquito area.”
Monument supporters say the governor is out of step with residents who increasingly want to give the monument a try.
The wooded wilderness includes a 17-mile loop road with stunning views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, along with trails for hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling, and paddling on the Penobscot River’s East Branch.
The Maine Department of Transportation, which would be tasked with making and installing the signs, insists the flap is all about avoiding wasteful spending.
“It would be imprudent to spend taxpayer dollars on signage if we are unsure that it’s moving forward,” said spokesman Ted Talbot.
Each of the signs, roughly 12 by 18 feet (3.7 by 5.5 meters), would likely cost $12,000 to $15,000, said Steve Landry, state traffic engineer.
Katahdin Woods and Waters Superintendent Tim Hudson said Monday that he has $40,000 set aside for signs or he could tap into a privately funded endowment.
Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated the land, said the governor’s concern over taxpayer dollars was disingenuous since it could easily be funded with private money.
“It’s a poor excuse to be spiteful to a region that he clearly doesn’t care about,” St. Clair said Monday.
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